By Melanie Taylor

Melanie Taylor has 30 years experience as Yoga Therapist and ViniYoga Teacher Trainer. She specializes in transforming lives affected by stress, trauma, PTSD, and eating disorders. She founded the Life of Wellness Institute, a yoga school committed to a therapeutic, trauma-informed, body-neutral, and compassionate approach. She nurtures students with mentorship, resources, and community. Empowering them to reclaim their authenticity and resilience. And learn to share this gift with others. Melanie also serves the Eat Breathe Thrive community as the Director of Education, leading a global team that helps people recover from eating disorders with yoga. Read more about Melanie’s work and experience here.

Yoga for Eating Disorders: A Healing Connection

Research suggests that yoga complements eating disorder treatment and recovery. These results don’t mean that yoga is a panacea or cure for an eating disorder. Rather, they show how yoga helps with things like body awareness and appreciation, which in turn help with recovery. Yoga helps us to listen to our bodies, and supports the ability to cope with sensations like hunger and fullness, which are often very challenging in the grips of an eating disorder. And, crucially, yoga fosters mindful self-compassion, helping us cultivate the ability to tune into our experiences and develop coping strategies for stress, anxiety, depression, panic, rumination, and dissociation.

In my personal experience, I grew up receiving messages suggesting I was the cause of pain in my family. In response, I pursued perfection, leading to self-loathing and disconnection from my body. This journey included struggles with anxiety, depression, PTSD — and an eating disorder.

A friend introduced me to yoga, offering solace in a practice that took years to truly grasp. Through mentorship and guidance, I found a new path forward. For over three decades, yoga has provided a sanctuary, reconnecting my mind and body and guiding me through life’s challenges with compassionate self-regulation. Today, I share this loving kindness with my students.

One memorable example from my work involves a student in Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery who bravely shared her journey. Struggling in an unhealthy relationship, she found solace in her eating disorder for comfort. However, as she delved deeper into her practice, she began to realize her inherent worth and the necessity of a supportive environment for her well-being. This realization marked a significant shift towards prioritizing self-care over self-criticism, highlighting the transformative power of self-compassion in the recovery process

THE IMPORTANCE OF A SUPPORTIVE YOGA ENVIRONMENT

Individuals with eating disorders often struggle with self-concept, food relationships, and body image. For yoga instructors, creating a welcoming, non-judgmental atmosphere is crucial.

 

Using gentle, open-ended cues and offering pose modifications empowers students to listen to their bodies. Avoiding language associated with weight loss or physical appearance fosters inclusivity and respect. Understanding eating disorders enables instructors to provide informed support and referrals when needed. A compassionate approach encourages students to explore their practice without fear, promoting healing and transformation.

Seven Tips for Yoga Teachers Supporting Students with Eating Disorders

Here are seven ways yoga teachers can create an inclusive and supportive environment that helps students on their journeys towards healing and self-discovery:

1. Avoid Triggers

 

 

 

 

 

Refrain from language reinforcing diet culture or weight stigma. For example, referring to certain poses as “fat-burning” or using language that emphasizes weight loss can be triggering for students with eating disorders or body image issues. Instead, focus on the experience of the pose and its benefits for the body and mind.

 

2. Cultivate a Non-Comparative Environment

 

 

 

 

Don’t make comparisons between students’ abilities, flexibility, physical appearance, or how many classes they have attended. This can create a competitive or judgmental atmosphere. Instead, encourage students to focus on their personal progress and growth.

 

3. Offer Modifications and Alternatives

 

 

 

 

Some yoga poses may be physically or emotionally challenging for students with eating disorders or body image issues. Always offer modifications or alternatives for poses that may be triggering, and emphasize the importance of listening to the body and respecting its limit

 

4. Avoid Body Shaming

 

 

 

 

Even seemingly positive comments about students’ bodies can be harmful. Instead, focus on encouraging students to appreciate and care for their bodies compassionately and respectfully.

 

5. Prioritize Safety for All

 

 

 

 

Create a space where students feel physically and emotionally safe. Provide clear instructions, offer modifications, and encourage students to listen to their bodies and respect their limits.

 

6. Establish Trust

 

 

 

 

Build trust with your students by being reliable, consistent, and transparent. Communicate clearly about class structure and expectations and be responsive to students’ concerns or questions.

 

7. Empower Your Students

 

 

 

 

Encourage students to actively participate in their healing and growth by offering tools and techniques they can use outside class. Provide resources and referrals to support their continued growth and well-being.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can support students with eating disorders through yoga, check out our newest online course bundle: Embodied Recovery: Yoga for Eating Disorder Awareness and Support. Featuring presentations from Dr. Catherine Cook-Cottone, Dr. Jason Nagata, Chelsea Roff, and Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, this mini-course will give you skills and knowledge to help all your students develop a healthier relationship with food, body, and self.